This post is lengthy and extremely self-indulgent.
Many is the time that I have recommended a book by Frederic Hudson that changed my life in 1998 when I first read it.
Created as an aid to the Boomer generation who, back then, were approaching age 50 and suffering a monumental mid-life crisis (me included).
In Hudson’s California many of them were being discarded by Corporate America in favour of brighter young Generation X’ers.
Other than the corporate discards, many were selling businesses, realising maturing investments, inheriting wealth from their parents.
They were asking “so what next?” and fearful of being cast onto a societal rubbish heap at a time when medical advances placed them in their prime.
At the time I had a trophy lifestyle, both personally and professionally, that wasn’t feeding me – just eating me. Devouring me seems, on reflection, more accurate.
Lifelaunch remains a classic and last Sunday morning I found myself skimming the pages of my original edition, reading my own handwritten notes from 18 years ago.
(as an aside, perhaps that is where print media has an edge over digital?)
Why was I looking through the book in the first place?
Well – to respond with lethal authenticity I will need to make a confession.
The last 2 working weeks have been spent mainly around home and I’ve invested a lot of time into my 2016 vision, mission, plan and goals.
All the classic coaching stuff I’ve been practicing and preaching for over 25 years.
Unique abilities – done.
2016 Vision mind-map – done.
2016 Calendar (Free, Buffer and Focus days) – done.
2016 Cash flow forecast – done.
Tolerations (things, situations and people) to be removed – done.
In fact, I completed the whole exercise by the 4th of 5 allocated days, sat back and waited for the mild adrenalin rush normally associated with the prospect of “going for it”.
Picked up the work I had done to look again.
Kept on waiting.
Another couple of days of immediate busy-ness passed by, during which I occasionally connected with my feelings about the future.
Each time, I experienced an emotional vacuum.
The plan is there, the targets are set, the projects are imagined but I’m not feeling anything other than a numbness that I cannot recall in the past.
The lethal nature of this admission is that I risk a response from my business partners, colleagues or clients along the lines of:
“Oh – so you don’t care then? You aren’t going to be giving us your best?”
But that would miss the point completely.
I regard myself as a person who operates in a professional manner – I have a responsibility and a duty of care to deliver my best work at all times – and I intend to continue in that way.
It’s showtime every day.
What I’m not feeling is a sense of excitement, anticipation, perhaps a little fear around the uncertainty of the future.
It seems that 2016 is a predictable landscape after years of responding to the unpredictable.
Maybe I’m so well organised that I’m bored?
Maybe I’m not cut out for “normal”?
So out came Lifelaunch, as I recalled the version of me from 1998 that didn’t really know what the hell he was doing with his future and wasn’t being nurtured by the life he had created.
(p.s. don’t worry if you are close to me – I’m not contemplating a Reggie Perrin)
I’ve had a further week to marinade in these uncommon (for me) emotions.
I’ve revisited the Tom Morris book on “True Success” and:
I’m doing what I love to do – tick
I’m doing it when I love to do it – tick
I’m doing it with the people I love doing it with – tick
I’ve pondered on whether this lost feeling is connected to my personal life?
My self-esteem is high.
My personal relationships are as good as they have ever been.
Although I’m waiting for the MRI results for my injured knee, I’m smashing it on the road bike and feel in pretty good shape overall.
My nutrition is good. Alcohol is under control and enjoyable.
I’m reading a lot of very good literature, listening to good music and enjoying excellent drama and documentary television.
I’m in control of my less successful addictive behaviours.
In summary then:
work is fine and amazingly well-organised
personally I’m in a very good place
And I’m composing this blog post to try and gain an insight into why I’m asking myself:
SO WHAT NEXT?
In Lifelaunch, Hudson suggests that many adults in the developed world are at their happiest when they are on a quest to achieve a stretch goal.
It can be an Ironman Triathlon or a barn conversion, a sales target or learning to play the piano well.
We are motivated by the quest, by the challenge, by the unimaginable possibility of failure, by the risk, by the visualisation of success.
The problems start immediately any or each quest is achieved.
Hudson suggests four distinct time periods:
The Doldrums – feeling lost after the achievement of the quest
Cocooning – withdrawal whilst we deal with the loss of the quest and search inside ourselves for some meaning
Getting Ready – the research for the next quest and
Going For It – the campaign (struggle) for the next quest
In the book, the suggestion is made that many of us are only truly happy with ourselves when we are at the fourth stage of “going for it”.
A sentiment I agree with after years of observation with clients.
I’ve worked with people who have sold businesses, passed exams, completed building projects, crossed many finishing lines – only to descend into the barren and becalmed landscape of The Doldrums, then on into Cocooning.
Permission granted to pass through these zones but my advice is always to consider the effect you are having on those around you at that time. How they will interpret your performance and behaviour if you don’t tell them what is going on.
Back, then, to my lack of emotion around my 2016 vision and plan.
I’m clearly Cocooning and the plans for next year that I have invested so much effort into are actually my way of paying the bills and supporting my business partners and clients whilst I’m “marking time” (to use the military expression).
There was an “aha” moment last week when I realised where I was in Hudson’s cycle and I decided to wind the clock back and ask myself (for the first time):
“so what was the Quest that you achieved and where were The Doldrums?”
I think I have an answer to that question.
One that took me a little by surprise.
My Quest was to obtain closure around the failure that occurred in January 2013 when BKH was placed into liquidation by it’s 100% owner with losses of over a million.
I was one of 10 people who lost their jobs that day and became trade creditors for their unpaid wages.
For the last 12 weeks of it’s doomed existence I was a Director of that business and, although the Directors had no practical control of the company’s finances we were (in theory) partly responsible for it’s demise.
I’ve realised that the events before, during and after the scuttling of that ship have been an elephant in my room ever since.
My brave face and total commitment to the present have masked a deep-rooted sense of responsibility associated with the failure of that business, although thankfully few of any importance were harmed financially and those that were could weather the storm.
In the last 3 months I have achieved closure.
My Quest has been to remove the elephant from the room.
Elephant gone and I’ve been in The Doldrums for the last 3 months.
My vision week at home wasn’t actually about planning 2016.
I’m Cocooning because I don’t know what my next Quest will be.
I’m looking at my 2016 vision and, included in the list of new things I want to create are:
a full-length business book
a regular newspaper column
an innovative team training workshop
a coaching programme for dental Micro-corporates
an online membership site
experimentation in a new vertical market
an advisory service for those preparing to sell their business
development of private equity finance for practice purchase
All of these require considerable resources and are in addition to my existing core coaching, speaking and writing activities.
Not one of them feels like a Quest.
Because I know I can do them.
So perhaps one definition of a Quest is something that you are not 100% sure you can do?
Earlier this year I travelled to Holland to spend a couple of wonderful days with the lovely Frouke van Es. I’ve always wanted to know if I could ever sing decently and began that journey under her expert coaching.
Soon afterwards she challenged me and others to set stretch goals and I responded with the declaration :
Dare to perform and write fiction
The “perform” is to sing in public. The writing is about anything other than business and my personal life.
I’ve done nothing about these goals, subconsciously preoccupied with The Quest.
I didn’t deserve the right to “play” until the elephant was removed.
Even so – I’m staring at the “dare’ and not very much is happening inside me.
Is there something wrong with me? Have I done everything?
Is the fact that I’m finally in a place where there are “no wrecks and nobody drowning” a curse, rather than a blessing, because after all those years I’ve become an expert at crisis management and survival?
I’m reminded of the statement that
The unexamined life is not worth living
Socrates understood that if he were imprisoned and/or banned from his investigation of human nature, then that would be a fate equivalent to death.
Clearly, these observations are a part of the examination that is necessary whilst I Cocoon.
I’ve been slow in publishing because I was waiting for a solution to manifest and provide an elegant ending to this post….
and my next Quest is!…….
But life isn’t that simple.
So if I appear pensive and withdrawn over the days and weeks ahead, please don’t take it personally and don’t think it will in any way affect my performance. The show must go on.
I may be some time.